Friday, February 27, 2015

GTA V, or: How Video Games Affect Real Life

Ah, Grand Theft Auto. That one video game franchise I made a conscious effort to stay away from because I knew — oh, I knew — I’d get in deep trouble with the higher ups (i.e. my parents) had I been spotted indulging in such a… decadent culture, so to speak. GTA has had this reputation for being violent and crude, which still stands to this day, so it was clear that it was something I couldn’t be caught playing as I grew up. ’Tis a shame GTA was nonexistent in my life during its PS2 era, because that was when the series really rose to fame.

Also because I totally missed out on snagging pirated copies for cheap, especially in this day and age.

But alas, riding on the excuse of ‘driving practice,’ I borrowed a cousin’s copy of Episodes from Liberty City, got hooked, and by Christmastime, I had my own copy of GTA V. Prior to this holiday purchase, the closest I had ever gone to playing anything remotely GTA-esque was The Simpsons: Hit and Run on the PS2. This was relatively open world (restricted to just The Simpsons universe, though), and also involved actual automobile theft that garnered attention from the in-game police after a ‘hit-and-run’ meter was filled. You could also beat people up, similar to that in GTA, but actual firearms, as well as foul language, were absent.

To have finally played a GTA game felt oddly liberating, especially since GTA V has such a vast area to explore right off the bat. I barely even pursued the offered missions in my excitement. I eventually did start working on those missions, having gone as far as unlocking Trevor, however a glitch c/o a game update prevented me from going any further than that, and so I’ve been stuck as Trevor ever since. I think the only solution is to replay the game from the very beginning, which is such a bummer that I haven’t really had the urge to do anything in the game anymore besides terrorizing the streets as Uncle T.

A friend of mine tells me that Vice City had the best soundtrack, and while I’m not familiar with its music, I’ve gotta hand it to GTA V for its sweet track selection. Some radio stations play the perfect music for driving around the streets, be it a leisurely joy ride… or a bloody joy ride of the crash and burn kind.

Despite getting to the GTA party extremely late, I do believe it was a good idea that I actively stayed away from it until recently. There have been several times in real life when I’ve spotted a motorbike, or a nice vehicle parked on the side, or a boat from that one beach trip I recently went to, and had the urge to just steal it. Once, I passed a guy walking his bike, and I legitimately felt this prompt on my fingertips to snatch it away from him.

I don’t even know how to ride a bike.

All images taken from the GTA Wikia/Google Images/YouTube.

It almost felt like the norm to just steal vehicles in real life, having done an excessive amount of it in the GTA universe. This is why I believe I was better off without the series until now. If, as a legal adult on paper (I say this because I’m probably not ‘adult’ enough for the real world… or am I?), I’m already easily affected by how the game has seeped into my actual life, then what more if I had played it when I was younger? I mean, even now, when my parents catch me doing something not-so-wholesome in GTA, they — my mom in particular — will comment on how bad of a citizen I am. Claiming I partially bought GTA V on the (false) premise of ‘driving practice,’ I had to watch it when my dad would sometimes comment on how wild I drove on GTA streets, telling me that I wouldn’t learn how to drive properly in real life if I couldn’t even follow the road rules of a video game.

But that’s the thing. It’s just a video game. It’s not real life. Since it’s only a game, I have the liberty to do whatever I want — or at least to what extent the game has to offer. I don’t have any real-life rules to adhere to, especially in a game that pretty much advocates breaking the rules.

Video games affect us in good ways and in bad, and I think that also depends on which games you play. Obviously, GTA wasn’t the best of influences on me, but that was pretty much a given, knowing its vicious reputation. This, of course, leaves parents concerned, especially for those with younger children. To have so much violence wrapped in the arms of a video game — an instrument of fun and entertainment for children — and have it easily accessible to practically anyone can be a little unsettling. Studies have shown that violence in video games act as a catalyst for real-life aggression, so it’s up to the parental figures to act as the wall between kids and the exposure towards such media.

It’s similar to filtering what kids can see on television and the internet. Access to the latter alone is already enough of a risk. Naturally, having something like GTA out in the open can be a concern for some, so I understand why some parents are very reluctant to introduce particular games to their children. It’s their responsibility, after all, especially when they want to raise their kids in the proper upbringing of a good environment.

Video games aren’t all that bad in terms of influencing real life. As I said, it’s all subject to which games you play. While studies have shown that violent video games are a model for actual aggression, it’s the same for video games that are positive in nature. The portrayal of good behaviors make good influences to its players — it’s the same as exposing a kid to a children’s program versus letting them watch an action film. Video games are the same as other types of media we come across; media that may influence us one way or another, be it consciously or otherwise. I feel like people are just more critical towards video games because they’re massively marketed towards the youth, so mature themes in such can be deemed inappropriate and even dangerous, especially in the hands of the very young.

I would go into the benefits of the ESRB and how it provides ratings similar to that of the motion picture rating system, but the ESRB has been under fire for some inconsistencies. Sometimes they put a rating much too high for a video game, and other times, especially in the case of GTA and its themes (“hot coffee,” anyone?), the rating is hardly high enough. So really, besides taking a video game’s ESRB rating into account, it’s all up to the parents’ discretion on exposing their kids to this and that.

To reiterate, it was a good idea that I stayed away from the GTA franchise during my more ‘developmental’ years. Who knows what kind of person I’d be today had I played it way back when. (Spoiler alert: I’d probably be a lot more horrible than I already am.) With such critical acclaim, I still think GTA is something worth trying out at least once before you die. It’s one of those ‘better late than never’ things that are absolutely imperative to have in your life, be it through a fleeting appearance or an actual purchase. Just make sure you’re of age. (Or, you know, just be sneaky about it.) (I’m probably as bad of an influence as GTA is.)

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